Once there was a time when we knew the trees and they knew us. They were planted in the middle of villages and were considered guardians of a place. On Old Midsummer Day, July 5th, the third Saturday in June or there abouts, these guardian trees were adorned with garlands, ribbons, flowers and flags. Appleton Thorn in Cheshire is named after such a hawthorn tree and here this tradition, called the Bawming of the Thorn, continues. The tree there is said to be an offshoot of the legendary Glastonbury thorn, a tree with its own fascinating history. Legend claims it was brought from Jerusalem to Glastonbury by Joseph of Aramathea and was the same tree from which the crown of thorns was made. Others claim this fantastic story was a creation of the monks who wished to discourage the use of the Hawthorn in pagan rituals and yet still wished use its power to promote their Christian faith.
The hawthorn is the May Tree or White Thorn– with it’s beautiful white flowers juxtaposed against its sinister thorns. Washing in the dew gathered from the white petaled flowers was a Old Tyme beauty tip. Witches made their brooms from them– perhaps because the hawthorne is the gateway to the fairy realms, the Otherworld. Vivian imprisoned Merlin in a cage of Hawthorne branches, using his own spell against him and it was under a Hawthorne that the Queen of May captured Thomas the Rhymer. Hawthorns often stand guard over sacred wells– and in these manifestations in story and landscape do seem to suggest the Yggdrasil, a tree linking this world with other realms.
What survives of these notions fascinates me. These happy village fetes, celebrating a tree with song and dance– is this a kind of Druidic hold over? A dream writ in Ogham on our collective subconscious? In England these ancient ideas manifest with fanfare– brass bands and Morris dancing. People still gather– they say it is for the sake of tradition– that it as has always been so, but I like to think there is something else here, feeding the imagination, talking back to our ancient guardians telling them we have not forgotten them.